Properties of Rooftop Air

Properties of Rooftop Air

Illustration By David Palumbo
Adding to cart… The item has been added

Full color dust jacket and interior illustrations by David Palumbo.

About the Book:

Tim Powers makes a triumphant return to the setting of The Anubis Gates with a tale that features the beggar clown Horrabin, and one who opposes him.

In the slum known as the St. Giles rookery in 19th century London, the beggar guild run by Horrabin the Clown is the last resort of the down-and-out. Horrabin is rumored to maim his people to make them more effective mendicants, and when dimwitted beggar Isaac Fairchild is summoned by the clown, he fears the worst.

But in the subterranean chamber known as the Nursery, Fairchild learns that Horrabin’s purpose is to greatly increase his intelligence, by grafting his rudimentary mind into the group mind shared by Horrabin’s gang of Spoonsize Boys—alchemically-hatched homunculi, two-inch-tall men employed by the clown for subtle thefts and assassinations. 

Fairchild yearns to be able at last to think clearly, understand conversations—read books!—but there’s a cost.

The Properties of Rooftop Air is printed on premium paper in two colors throughout, with a full-color dust jacket and two full-color illustrations by David Palumbo.

Lettered: 26 signed specially bound copies, housed in a custom traycase

Limited: 474 signed numbered copies, bound in leather, housed in a custom, foil stamped slipcase

Trade: Fully cloth bound hardcover edition, without the color illustrations

From Publishers Weekly:

“The evil clown Horrabin returns in this tense and emotionally rich novella, which pulls readers back into the world of Powers’s 1983 fantasy, The Anubis Gates… Powers delves deep into themes of desire and selfhood while bringing back familiar faces sure to please long-standing fans.”

The Properties of Rooftop Air



Looking up from the narrow cobblestone pavement of Dyott Street, he couldn’t see anything more than the overhanging eaves above the third-floor windows, but the westering sun threw a segmented silhouette of the building’s roof onto the walls of a couple of old lodging houses across the street, and, looking that way, Fairchild could see the spidery shadow of the wooden tower that stood between the chimneys up there. He thought he could even make out a blur at the top of the tower, which would be the clown…thinking.

It was well known among the thieves and beggars who congregated in the extensive cellars of Rat’s Castle that the clown Horrabin had somehow renounced his natural connection to the earth, and suffered if he ever even touched the ground; and therefore had to recline in hammocks and walk around on stilts. Horrabin claimed to be able to do his clearest thinking when he was as far away from the earth as possible, and so he spent many hours perched on the platform at the top of the Welkin Rood, the tower that some astrologer had long ago built on the roof of Rat’s Castle.

Fairchild hoped that was the clown at the top of the tower, and that he’d stay up there for a while, for today had been another failure. Fairchild had joined Horrabin’s underworld guild not many days ago, and at first the clown had set him to work as a Mintie Dropper, which meant that he should stand on a busy corner down along the Strand with a tray of dusty mints for sale, and then when an affluent-looking gentleman came striding past, should blunder into the man’s way so that they collided—at which point Fairchild was supposed to drop the mints into any handy patch of mud, and mimic immense dismay. This performance was meant to excite pity in the one who had been made to jostle him, or at least in bystanders, and get some coins tossed to him; but Fairchild had never got the timing right, and generally dropped the mints too soon or too late, or forgot to drop them at all and got only an impatient curse for clumsiness.

After two days of that, Horrabin had decided that Fairchild, being naturally thin and sallow-faced, might do better “standing pad” as a Famished Beggar. Dressed for this part in a threadbare frock coat, worn corduroy trousers and ruptured old boots, he was also made to wear a white cloth bound around his head and a black cap that pushed strands of his dark hair over his forehead, all to emphasize his pallor.

His only task as a Famished Beggar was to write STARVING in chalk on an Oxford Street sidewalk paving stone, and then lean on the wall beside it and wait for alms. Fairchild had managed to fail even at that.

The shadow of Rat’s Castle on the lodging house walls had been swallowed up in the advancing twilight, and streaks of lamplight showed now between the boards nailed over the ground floor windows.

Fairchild was glad to be back here in the tangled lanes and alleys of the St. Giles rookery, where walls were close and makeshift bridges slanted overhead from one building to another—Oxford Street had been so wide that he’d been able to see the ornate roof-ridges of even four-story buildings from the other side of the street, and the carriages and cabs and beer-wagons had rattled past at such a clip that he was sure he’d be trampled beneath the horses’ hooves if he were to try to cross—but he was late, and he had brought back no coins at all, not a solitary farthing.

First the mints had defeated him, now the chalked letters.

Previous to last night’s several lessons on how to draw the letters that spelled STARVING, the only word he had been able to write was his own name, and today it hadn’t been until a passing woman had said “Isaac?” and he had tentatively looked up just to see her shake her head and walk on, that he had realized his mistake. He had then hastily scuffed the chalked letters ISAAC into cloudy blurs and hurried away, but it seemed to him that the mistake had been natural enough—the two words both had the snaky letter and the church-steeple one, after all.

Again he looked up at the dark windows of Rat’s Castle.

There were rumors about Horrabin—that he sometimes made beggars more effective at eliciting pity by blinding or crippling them, or even shrinking them in size—but Fairchild was nervously confident that the clown wouldn’t decide such measures were called for yet. Admittedly Fairchild could never be dextrous enough to succeed as a pickpocket or three-card dealer…but he could probably join the “utterers of base coin,” be a carrier of the counterfeit coins that Horrabin’s mechanics cast in moulds, for delivery to agents in various districts of the city. That only called for remembering streets; he was sure he could learn to do that.

And in the meantime he was hungry, and dinner was probably being served in the subterranean dining hall even now.

David Palumbo
Tim Powers
80 pages
United States
In Print